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THE GREATEST OF THE HEBREW PROPHETS.

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also, because he looked for the Christ to assume an outward dignity, he became impatient of his own imprisonment, and began to be disturbed because Jesus had done nothing towards his liberation, and no tidings came of such events as should accompany the appearance of the Messiah. It is from the message which he sent to Jesus from prison that we infer the imperfection of his views and pronounce him still only a Hebrew prophet.

But while we rank him with the Jewish Seers, we account him the greatest of that illustrious line of which he was the last. If the least in the kingdom of Heaven was greater than he, before him there had not arisen a greater. While in his garb and whole proceeding he breathed the spirit of Elijah, and his heart glowed with the old prophetic fire, his ideas of the coming kingdom, though they corresponded in a degree with popular notions and he looked for a political revolution, were still eminently spiritual. The preparation for the expected kingdom to which he summoned his countrymen was of a moral nature. He aimed principally to reach their hearts and reform their manners. He saw how hollow were those grounds upon which they expected the blessing of God. "Think not to say in yourselves," said he, "we have Abraham for our father. Make not your descent from the great patriarch your merit. For I tell you, God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. If you expect to share in the honours of the coming reign, let not your repentance be a form but an act. Let it produce works corresponding thereto." He saw too through the pretended saints of the day, and without hesitation or fear poured out upon them his indignant denunciations. His high authority as a moral teacher is seen in his

THE POWER OF THE BAPTIST.

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bold rebuke of a powerful prince for marrying a brother's wife, that brother being still living. Upon John, of all the prophets, the near glory of the kingdom of Heaven had fallen, and he had caught far more of its spirit than any of his predecessors. This, as I conceive, was attributable in great measure to the influence of Jesus with whom he had associated.

The various notices of the Baptist furnish a striking instance of the consistency for which the Gospels are remarkable, and which, as I have observed, is one of the indubitable signs of Truth. Every thing told of him is in character. His austere mode of life, his requiring his disciples to observe fasts, the prominence he gave to the use of water as a symbol of inward cleansing, an external form, oriental, Jewish, his bold denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees, his uncompromising tone, and his faithful rebuke of Herod-all, briefly but distinctly stated, help to individualise his character to the imagination. Although, as we gather from the record, his career was of short duration, yet while it lasted, it was full of power. The whole country was moved at his appearance, at the rumour of that Voice sounding in the wilderness. Men started up as if the van of the august retinue of the Messiah had visibly appeared, approaching from the Desert. We are told in the strong language of the East, that all Jerusalem went forth to be baptized of John in the Jordan, there to confess and wash away their sins, and array themselves in sabbath-attire of the soul to hail their coming Deliverer. The Baptist drew around him a peculiar body of disciples, who long cherished his memory and acknowledged him as their Head. Long after his decease, after the final disappearance of Jesus,

HIS INDEPENDENCE.

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the Apostle Paul found at Ephesus, a far off city of Greece, certain disciples of John, who appear to have known but little of the ministry of Jesus.*

*

Although, as we have seen, John cherished the deepest reverence for Jesus, and acknowledged his great superiority, yet the Baptist preserved a peculiar and independent character. Their aim was the same. They both appeared announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand. Still, beyond a unity of spirit, there is not the slightest trace of a pre-arranged concert of action between them. The holy spirit of Jesus gave much of its life to the lesser spirit of John. But it did not prescribe his rules nor dictate his methods. These are characterised by his own peculiar temperament. He spake at the bidding, not of Jesus, but of the voice of God; though all he had known of Jesus and all he had felt towards him had tended to qualify him for the office of a Heaven-sent messenger.

Jesus, in his own way, original and matchless, has given us a description of John, not an elaborate portrait, but a bold and impressive sketch-two or three lines, and the likeness comes before us, vivid and powerful. There is a significance in the passage referred to of which readers in general have had no adequate impression. After the two disciples, who had brought the message of their Master to Jesus, had left him, he turned to the crowd and spoke of John, "What," said he, "went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out to see? A man clad in soft raiment? They that wear soft clothing are in king's houses. But what went ye out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more

*See Michaelis's Introduction.

PORTRAIT OF JOHN BY JESUS.

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than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.' Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of woman, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he." Here, by the suggestion of strong contrasts, Jesus causes the prominent features of the Baptist to stand out in the boldest relief. I conceive the meaning of this passage to be, " When a little while ago you flocked in such crowds to the desert, what drew you thither? What went ye to see? A reed shaken by every wind? One of Lebanon's own cedars rather! A reed? No, a man, a man of no bending, but of the sternest, spirit. But again I ask what did ye go to see? A man daintily arrayed? Oh, no! John's garb, the rudest, his present dwelling, a dungeon where he has been cast for his fearless rebuke of sin in high places, show that he cares not for the blandishments of a palace or the menaces of a tyrant. It was neither of these that drew you in such multitudes into the wilderness, no man of a yielding, reed-like temper, no delicate, flattering inmate of a king's house. You went to see a prophet? Yes, and more than a prophet, one who has completely fulfilled the prophetic declaration of Scripture, and shown himself to be sent by God to prepare the way of the Lord. I solemnly declare to you that of all mortal men, there hath not arisen a greater than this John; yet still the least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he." In declaring John to be the greatest of all mortal men that had yet appeared, Jesus gives expression to his own deep sense of the powerful character of the Baptist, and the warmth of personal confidence and friendship gives colour and boldness to his language. We misunderstand him if we consider

THE BAPTIST, A JEW.

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him as laying down a formal proposition that John was the greatest of men. Our Saviour spoke naturally and strongly under the deep impression of the moment. Deep feeling seldom stops to limit and qualify and guard its utterances.

The attempt, which I have now made to describe the relation between Jesus and John, to show how the spirit of the one was kindled and exalted by the wisdom and holiness of the other, is, I am aware, very imperfect. The influence of Jesus upon the Baptist will be recognised by the thoughtful reader of the Scriptures. If we only knew what it is to be associated with a being thoroughly pure and true, we should be qualified to appreciate this topic. We are compelled to witness, in those whom we most respect, great imperfections that necessarily lessen our confidence and their influence. Still none are insensible to the stirring power of a wise and just man over those who enjoy the privilege of his friendship. The feeble representations of goodness that we meet, with all their defects-how powerfully do they move us, and to what strong language do they prompt. Listen to men as they speak of those who have commanded their admiration and respect. Observe the warmth of their words and tones. In what exalted terms do they express their reverence. By some effort of mind we may conceive how the original, religious, nature of the Son of Zacharias was moved by converse with his inspired relative and friend. To doubt whether an influence so holy and penetrating was felt by the Baptist, is to discredit, not only the whole history of the New Testament, but human nature itself.

In the appearance and procedure of John the traces

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